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Ever since online shopping sites like eBay, Amazon and advertisement sites like Craigslist became main stream, a whole plethora of odd items that would never be considered an item are now being sold as if they are autographed LeBron James jerseys. But recently a new sort of item is being put up for auction; something that in hindsight is just plain odd and self-fulfilling: an entire town, with prices on these bad boys ranging from half a million to close over five million. There is no practical purpose to owning a town aside from gloating to your rich friends, not to mention making yourself mayor without getting involved in politics; but for some it can be potential piggy banks if you play your cards right.
That’s what Landon Dunlap was planning anyway.
A product of Wall St. during the housing market boom, this thirty year old was a multi-millionaire who could have easily retired and lived the life of luxury; but Landon was the sort of person who wants to leave a legacy that future generations will remember. So when he found out the mayor of Fire Creek put up a Craigslist ad for a town of 10 (at least that’s what the ad stated) being sold in Fayette County, West Virginia for about $3 million, he saw this as a prime opportunity to turn this dump into a future city; he just couldn’t help himself but call the guy who put up the ad and set up a meeting at the mayor’s office. Of course he could have picked any other ghost town in the state, lord knows there is an abundance of them, but the seller enticed Mr. Dunlap with an offer that included no restrictions on developing the land into whatever he wishes, and having no government interference. Red flags should have been raised at the idea that he can develop the land without any regulations from the state and federal government; but Mr. Dunlap figured that even with the prospect of the promise turning out to have been a lie, he can just basically pay certain politicians to look the other way.
Driving towards Fire Creek in his Tahoe on the C&O Railroad that extends through Thurmond, another ghost town on the New River; it is pretty clear that unlike Thurmond with its buildings preserved as landmarks, there was only dense forest on the way to Fire Creek and some fog as if some higher power is using White Out on this patch of land. There was however one house he noticed that looked in near good condition, despite having tell-tale signs of a house fire; on the outskirts of town was a sort of decrepit two story mansion that has a lonely mailbox jutting out on the side of the road, almost begging to grab his attention.
He pulled over next to the mailbox to get out and analyze the house and its surroundings; something about the place really stroked his curiosity, he couldn’t decide if it was the Neo-Georgian architecture, or the fact that right behind it was a god damn graveyard; most likely the graveyard. It was so jarring that there would be such an extravagant house surrounded by tombstones; but hey he can always just tear the thing down and turn the land into something new. He checked the mailbox to see if it had a name, but before he could even check he heard a raspy voice behind him. “So that’s where you been Mr. Dunlap; reckoned the wolves got to yah on the way here!”
Landon was so startled; he made a full 180 and managed to strain some muscles in his back. “Damn it,” he groaned and rubbed his back. “Next time give me a warning will yah mister?” Looking at the guy really gave him an uncomfortable feeling; for one thing his business suit is ridiculously dirty and tattered, which coupled together with his musty grey beard gave Landon the impression he’s likely the town oddball. The other thing was that he looks so cheerful; it wouldn’t have bothered him so much, but his rotting teeth and frail figure really wasn’t a pretty sight to look at. “Pleasure to meet you officially,” the dirty gent said, extending out his bony hand. “I’m Coleton Burrows, the mayor of this fine establishment we call Fire Creek.”
Landon was afraid that this guy was the mayor, but in hindsight it was pretty obvious; this is an abandoned town he is buying after all, and that tidbit the ad mentioned about this ruin having a population higher than 1 was most certainly bullshit. But he needed to suck it up and not be repulsed by Burrows, he really wanted to buy this town after all; its location was perfect as it was in the mouth of New River Gorge, and once he finishes developing this patch of land into a new smart city there’s no doubt the foreign billionaires who buy houses and units as nothing more than investments will be eating this up. “Charmed to meet you Mayor Burrows, mind telling me what the heck is up with that house?”
“Oh you mean Blackstone Hall? You wouldn’t want to be stepping around there sonny; that place has quite a bit of history that would even make H.H. Holmes tremble!”
“Good to know then,” now Landon was very curious about this place, but he only came here to buy, so he allowed the mayor into his car and drove him back to the town square where the office is. The building was certainly nothing worthy to write about, just essentially a one story building that has the outside façade of a small town convenience store. The inside was just as unimpressive; a desk cluttered with official looking papers, hunting trophies hanging on the walls, and a cabinet that frankly has seen much better days, in fact the place was pretty disorganized. But he kept the thought to himself, as he doesn’t want to screw up the sale if the mayor has a hair trigger temper. “So, shall we start the negotiation process for the sale of this town?” He asked, settling himself down on a chair opposite the desk and putting his leather briefcase next to him.
“Oh come now dear child, surely you must be curious as to the story about the house surrounded by death, aren’t you? I can see it in your eyes, you just begging me to tell you this story!” In all honesty, it’s more like the Mayor was keen to talk about this story since he keeps pushing it, but whatever, he might as well just listen to it as he nodded to let him know Landon definitely wants to hear this story, even though it’s just for getting this deal done sooner. “Well, you’ve probably heard about the Red Ash Mine explosion that occurred back in 1900 that killed up to 50 miners. May the lord rest their souls in peace. Anyways, that explosion pretty much decimated the economy of Red Ash, the now former settlement that’s just on the opposite end of the river, so the bodies were buried on Red Ash Island.”
“It is an interesting story,” Landon said while tapping his fingers on the desk. “But I fail to see how it relates to Fire Creek; you said it yourself, the accident happened at Red Ash.”
“Well, ‘officially’ an accident anyway,” the entrepreneur immediately had his interest perked. “There were rumors enveloping the Gorge that the death count was actually closer to 130, but the bodies had…certain characteristics, if you will, that would make things uncomfortable if the public were to see them. You see, after Pearl Harbor, the Fire Creek mine became a joint venture project between the Fire Creek Coal & Coke Company and the federal government as a research facility and testing ground, as the old facility at Red Ash became obsolete. I heard from my pappy that they were making a secret weapon of sorts in the mines that would help the US Army win the Second World War, and protect the homeland from a Soviet invasion. And that secret weapon had to do with something that was in the Red Ash mine that caused these characteristics on the bodies; but after another incident that killed almost everyone in the facility, they shut down the project, and made sure that there wouldn’t be anybody living in the Gorge by the way of the Red Car.”
“Yep; they bought the mines within the region and had them shut down to economically starve the town so that they have the residents be given a reason to move out. Of course, it's only a rumor.” Landon was certainly interested in this rumor, but he wondered what it had to do with Blackstone Hall. Almost as if the quirky mayor can telepathically read minds, he answered his question before he even had the chance to ask. “Blackstone Hall is actually the residence of the last mine owner, a Mr. Thaddeus Quentin; the gravesite that surrounds the place is where the rest of the miners from the Red Ash explosion, including the incident that occurred in the facility underneath the mansion, and there’s a possibility that there is a second entrance to the mine within that house.”
“Why would there be a second entrance inside a house instead of it being a regular mineshaft?” Landon asked Mr. Burrows.
“As I said, the mine was rumored to house a secret research facility; so why don’t you use that smart brain of yours to connect the two together and get your answer?” Mayor Burrows replied with a grin, being cheekily coy with him. Landon was starting to notice a nagging feeling in the back of his mind. Now that he thought about it; he had been getting this ever since he met the Mayor; why was this Mayor selling the town to begin with, and how come he was so eager to tell these stories to him? Landon pushed these questions in the backburner; he was more focused on getting this town. He would deal with whatever secrets the town had after he gets ownership of the land. Once the mayor seemed satisfied with saturating his buyer with all the stories, he pulled open a drawer and grabbed a document and set it on his desk. Finally, he brings up the deed...at least he thinks it’s a deed. It looks official, though Landon still can’t help but feel a nagging suspicion. “So, Mr. Dunlap,” the mayor pushed a Parker Duofold fountain pen towards Lando. “Do we have ourselves a deal?” Whatever qualms he had; once the document came into Landon’s sight with the pen in his grasp, the doubts he had immediately dissipated and was replace with euphoric satisfaction. Finally, he thought to himself, he can own this patch of land and do whatever he wants. Without hesitation, he signed his name on the dotted line. “Well, of course we have a deal, Mr. Burrows,” he said as he set the pen down, grabbing the document and putting it in his briefcase. “It was pleasure to do business with you. I’ll make sure to send this government paper to Charleston and Washington so that they can make the land sale official.” It’s also in the event that if they don’t accept the deed; he can make some under the table dealings so that he can ‘persuade’ some of the most influential politicians.
“Excellent, I’ll be happy to hear the results of your efforts when you come back.” He said in a rather low, soft tone. Something about the way he said it really rubbed him the wrong way; as if the Mayor has some ulterior plan in mind. Whatever he thought to himself; he will be out of his hair and will have the free time to do whatever the hell Burrows does in his spare time. As he got into his truck and drove out of Fire Creek; his curiosity about Blackstone Hall was growing more intense, almost like a mental itch that he can’t even scratch.
‘Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to check out this house before I leave,’ Landon thought, pulling over right next to the familiar lone mailbox and getting out, bringing with him a compact flashlight that was in the glove compartment. ‘After all, this is technically my mansion now; and once I restore the building I can turn it into my personal residence.’ Landon really didn’t seem much concerned about the story Burrows told him about the mansion, in fact it actually drove his curiosity even further, and if it turns out that his story is true, he can even turn this into a tourist attraction for his future city. He can imagine the tagline now: ‘STEP RIGHT INTO THE PAST; LEARN ABOUT THE SECRETS THE ONCE BUSTLING TOWN OF FIRE CREEK HAD BEEN HIDING FROM THE WORLD,’ though of course it would help if he found out what specifically were those secrets it hold. Climbing up the small steps to the mansion; loud creaks from the rotting wood emanated through his ears, piercing into the sky and sending a tingle through his spine. He knew well in advance that this won’t be the last of getting these tingly sensations; this place was something you would see in a Ghost Hunters episode, but like a trooper, he ignored the sensation and opened the creaking door.
Well one thing’s for sure as he slowly walked his way inside, he wasn’t the first visitor it had. The floor is covered in rubble and trash, while the walls and some furniture are covered in graffiti tags. “Damn kids,” he said to himself as he wondered around the place, the flashlight’s beam shining on all the nooks and crannies. “Haven’t the youthful pricks ever heard of private property?”
As he wandered around the foyer, he kept hearing these rustling sounds echoing through the house; 'It’s probably just the house creaking in its natural state,' he thought to himself, 'There is just no way anybody would be in this house, it's completely cut off from the world around it along with Fire Creek.' But there was no doubt for Landon: something, or someone, was watching him, had the mayor tailed him and is now stalking him? Either way, he decided that he should get out as soon as possible, but as he concluded to make a U-turn and leave, something in what was once the living room caught his attention. Resting near a tattered couch was an antique stove that definitely seen better days. Its lid, completely removed from the hinges, was resting on the stove like a limb that seeks to be reunited with its original body, though the body was filthy, covered in tags and white specks that he can only hope isn’t bird feces, and for some reason there was a frying pan resting on the top along with what appears to be old toilet paper. He really didn’t want to check inside the thing, but that mental itch kept telling him to look inside, so with complete delicacy of a surgeon holding his breath, he stuck his hand in the stove to see what was inside. When he grabbed hold of something and pulled it out, in his hand was this leather journal that looked pretty charred. Unfortunately the name that was written on the cover was too worn to be read, but the cover still had a unique mark that certainly distinguishes it from others: A Sunwheel, or something similar to that effect, it certainly wasn’t the same Sunwheel design that is seen on documentary shows that talk about Nazis and the occult, but still that is the only thing that can best describe it. “How odd,” he said to himself, now just allowing his mind to escape the cage of his cranium through the mouth. “I’m sure the owner of this thing wouldn’t mind me taking a look at it.” He opened the journal, taking a seat on the tattered couch and started to read its content.
January 10th, 1952
This is Dr. Burrows; I will be using this journal to record the process of Project Cherufe -which will be starting tomorrow-, including interviews with the test subjects involved in this experiment, and the results, as I, along with my director Dr. Melsbach, will be leading the group. I have taken extra precautions to make sure this journal isn’t discovered and destroyed in the event Project Cherufe blows up in everyone faces; knowing the CIA will try to remove any public records of what we are doing, we are breaking all sorts of United States federal and international laws for conducting this experiment after all. If this does end up going to hell in a hand basket; I am sorry to whoever is reading this, and I am sorry to god.
Burrows? He thought to himself in surprise of hearing a familiar name; surely it isn’t the same Burrows he was negotiating with earlier right? Nah, it’s more likely that Coleton was the doctor’s son.
January 11th, 1952
After discussing how to proceed with Dr. Melsbach; the first step would be to do a pre-experimentation with the ten subjects to evaluate the physical and mental conditions pre and post-experimentation. Due to lack of civilian identification given to us by our superiors; the subjects will be identified throughout the course and in this journal by the identification mark tattooed on the palm of they’re right hand: A21, B04, C79, D86, E52, F63, G98, H10, I37, and J45. Most of them are mentally sound; and all of them are healthy enough to pass the physical bar, though Subject H10 concerns me greatly, as he exhibits clear sign of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. I recommended to the Director that he be removed from program as he might be a danger to himself and to everyone around him; of course that Nazi prick shot me down immediately, saying that it will be interesting to see Project Cherufe’s effects on people whose mind are not sound. Why the CIA brought him over to the States instead of having him stay in Germany and face the public’s wrath is beyond me.
For Landon it was like reading a mystery thriller; he couldn’t put the journal down. Not only that; this actually confirms that kooky mayor’s story about this area, he’s got the proof he need to make this into a hot spot to the likes of Roswell. He kept reading to see what other nuggets he could find out.
March 3rd, 1952
After nearly two months of administrating weekly 400mg dosages of Project Cherufe; we have already noticed some significant changes; the pores on their skins are emitting gaseous forms of Acetylene. We are still determining how this is possible, but we have advised the entire team to not bring lighters, or any materials that can produce a spark into the vicinity of the subjects for the time being, lest we want to turn all of our research into charred remains.
March 5th, 1952
This is unbelievable; Subject D86 was ignited during an interview session with one of the lowly scientists. I don’t know why but Dr. Melsbach asked the scientist to do the interview in the interview rooms, even though I explicitly warn him and the group the carpeting will create static electricity that’ll ignite the Acetylene. But in this screw-up, we saw something nothing short of a breakthrough: Despite temperatures reaching close to 3000°F, his skin hasn’t even developed blisters and first degree burns. If D86’s skin can resist these sorts of temperature’s, does that mean the other subjects have the same genetic quirk?
March 20th, 1952
D86 is dead. Dr. Melsbach found him lying face down in the sleeping quarters; no visible marks have been noticed, and it appeared he died of natural causes. I know Melsbach had something to do with his death, because he immediately began to slice him open to see if Project Cherufe made any changes to the internal structure. His organs were… Solidified; they were covered in a thick layer of rock; not only that, but when we did testing on his blood, there was barely any oxygen left, instead being replaced by Acetylene. Opening the brain he found the brain –while intact- had shriveled up from the heat the body’s been emitting. This person should have been dead long ago; a brain in this state is surely fatal, so what has been keeping the subject alive up to this point? The team and I were horrified about the results, but Dr. Melsbach only nodded and jotted these sets of information down into his notebook, most likely going to report it to the CIA about the results. The funny thing is… His insides changing to that of something no many can describe is not what mortified me, it was a scar on his right leg, a giant one at that; I recognize that scar from anywhere… D86 was actually Thaddeus Quentin.”
Mr. Quentin was used as an experiment in this fucked up program? Landon thought to himself; he started to hear more rustlings in the house, and even slight sounds of moaning.
April 2nd, 1952
No matter how much I told Dr. Melsbach the ramifications of continuing this experiment, he refused to call it off and even threatened me with reporting to the upper brass about me going to the media if I so much think about quitting. That’s basically an instant death sentence; the CIA is so paranoid about one-upping the Soviet Union that they would eliminate any problems in order to protect the nation’s secrets. Doesn’t he realize that we are reaching a critical stage? The skin has eroded and replaced with a substance that can be best described as magma, the rooms they are housed in can’t even handle the 5500°F temperatures. Not only that; A21, E52, and F63 died after being savagely beaten by the other subjects; they’re mentality has deteriorated to the point of being rabid beasts… Most of them; H10 though seems to be the only one who’s mentality appears to be stable comparatively speaking. Just resting against the wall and smiling at the sight, but I suspect he was directing his smiles at us. From observations it seems the remaining subjects are now like pets, listening to their master; I can only guess who their master is though. If we don’t kill the subjects now while we have the chance we might be able to prevent a disaster from occurring.
When he finished reading the entry, Landon noticed something off about his surroundings: The temperature spiked. It felt like the Sahara Desert was put inside the mansion along with its weather; the extreme humidity making it difficult for him to breathe. Even then, he didn’t think he was in danger yet; besides he thought, it looks as though there is one last entry left in the journal, once he finished reading this he would get out of there.
April 8th, 1952
I’m bleeding out. I managed to escape the manor after the facility went ablaze; but I lost too much blood to even make it far. I will write this final entry with the remaining strength I have, as the people deserved to know.
H10 instigated a riot; he commanded the other subjects to attack the scientists and destroy the place. I should have put that bastard down when I had the chance; he’s a complete sociopath with no regard for humanity. Dr. Melsbach and I made a mad dash towards the head office where there was an emergency stairway. We need to report the incident to the CIA; if these things get out there is no telling what will happen. H10 found us while I was talking to the officials in DC about the riot; managing to melt down the reinforced Tungsten doors down into a puddle of wax just by standing near the damn thing. The others according to readings were still at 5500°F, which we assumed was the threshold, yet he’s past 6000°F; I can only hypothesize that H10 is the only one who can control his own body temperature.
He immediately lunged towards us; I managed to fall back into the emergency stairway, but he grabbed a hold of Dr. Melsbach... His death was horrifying to watch; his body was ablaze like a candle, the high temperature being a living hell as all that liquid inside his body basically evaporated into steam and turning him into a pressure cooker, exploding instantly. I tried to escape but the son a bitch threw something at me that tore my left side open, and unfortunately the hot item went through me, so it wasn’t able to cauterize any open blood vessels. I managed to get up to the mansion; I suspect that the facility collapsed, as H10 never bothered to go after me, like it wouldn’t make much of a difference anyhow. To anyone who found this journal and read this, please bring this to the attention of the Federal Government; the CIA needs to be accountable for the crimes it has committed in Project Cherufe.
Landon closed the book; could this journal be actually telling the truth? Is this place a tombstone of experimental freaks? Whatever the case; he immediately makes a beeline for the door to get the hell out of the there. Reaching outside; it was quite apparent that something was seriously wrong; his truck was missing. “Damn it, what the hell happened to my truck?!” he kicked the dirt in frustration.
“Oh I took as a personal belonging,” familiar voice rang behind him. The instant he turned around; Mr. Burrows struck his head with a shovel in such a force, that his skull split wide open as Landon hit the ground, and with two more swings to his legs, he incapacitated the bloodied businessman with the sound of bone cracking. The Mayor, holding the document that he signed earlier, tore it to pieces. He grabbed Landon by his wrists and started to drag him back to the manor. “You really didn’t think I placed that ad to sell my home, especially to a yuppie in a suit did you?” Landon wasn’t able to respond to that; it was a miracle he was even conscious after that blow. “I have been doing this scam for 50 years, always luring in dumbasses and wanderers to my little slice of heaven for food.”
He looked at Landon; his skin blistering open from the 1000°F heat that was confined to only inside Blackstone Hall, the two going further into the place with the temperature rising further. “Oh don’t worry boy,” Burrows laughed. “I’m not going to eat you, I may be in my 70’s now, but I can still hunt animals with ease to take care of myself. My obedient pets on the other hand… Well let’s just say they need some help with getting they’re meal.” When he reached his destination, he threw Landon into one of the backrooms, barely lit except for an orange glow coming from the other end of the room. Landon tried his best to get out of there with a crawl, but the blow to the head made him dizzy and severely crippled his co-ordination. Looking back to the source of the glow, he saw five human-like figures sat in a circle, but the comparison to humans end there. They’re skin was covered in a black molten crust that leaked white hot magma from any opening they had; mouth, ear, wound, even their eyes are leaking magma as though they are tears. As they lumbered they’re way towards Landon, he can the expressions these things had: hunger. He now realized that he wasn’t brought here for a sale, he was the unfortunate schmuck who signed up to be dinner under the guise of a sale.
When he looked at Dr. Burrows, the frail old bastard only gave a sinister grin towards his now former acquaintance. “It was a wonderful deal you offered me, but I am afraid I have to reconsider, as I know I can get better offers in the near future.” He waved his right hand to say goodbye and left. Before he could even react the beasts lunged on top of him and started devouring him, each bite making bits of his flesh crackling and sizzling; he lied there and just allowed the beings to eat them, admitting defeat. The last thing he will remember before he dies is the mark on Mayor Burrow’s right hand as he was waving to him: H10. Guess in some twisted way he now knows the story is indeed true; and would surely bet that Mayor Burrows would be using this story as an urban legend, to lure more cattle to slaughter.
Written by AndrewEB